A useful history of a war little studied on this side of the border.



Thorough account of the cynical, opportune US war against Mexico.

Former AP reporter Wheelan (Jefferson’s War, 2003, etc.) writes with vivid immediacy of desperate battles on desert sands and tropical beaches, but the best parts here take place in well-appointed Washington offices. As Wheelan notes, the war was precipitated by border skirmishes, particularly an attack by Mexican cavalry on a US army unit in April 1846 that, President James K. Polk insisted, took place on American soil inasmuch as Texas had recently been persuaded to join the Union. Whether the Mexicans actually forded the Rio Grande is unclear, but, by Wheelan’s account, what is certain is that Polk had been spoiling for a war of conquest “to divest Mexico of California and the New Mexico territory” in order to fulfill Jeffersonian notions of manifest destiny. Congress willingly budgeted $10 million and 50,000 soldiers for the task, silencing members who had protested—the nucleus, Wheelan notes, of the first major antiwar movement in the country’s history. Mexico’s government was weak and crumbling, so Polk had an easy enough sitting-duck target; thus, he rejected entreaties for peace by which Mexico would have ceded most of the desired territory for a mere $30 million if Santa Anna were allowed to return from exile to power and given a fund by which to bribe any Mexican legislators who opposed the deal. Instead, Polk unleashed a war most of whose American participants came to feel was unjust from the very start, and that, most historians of the period agree, set the American Civil War in motion: As Ulysses S. Grant, who distinguished himself at Chapultepec, said of the conflict, “Nations, like individuals, are punished for their transgressions. . . . We got our punishment in the most sanguinary and expensive war of modern times.”

A useful history of a war little studied on this side of the border.

Pub Date: April 10, 2007

ISBN: 0-7867-1719-X

Page Count: 512

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2007

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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